KUALA LUMPUR: The Pakatan Harapan government of Malaysia will not ratify the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), the Prime Minister’s Office said on Friday (Nov 23).
The ICERD is a United Nations Convention that condemns discrimination based on race, colour, descent, nationality or ethnic origin, and calls upon states to pursue a policy of eliminating racial discrimination in all its forms.
“The government will continue to defend the Federal Constitution in which is enshrined the social contract that was agreed upon by the representatives of all the races during the formation of the country,” it said in a statement.
Malaysia's "social contract" was a pact made by the leaders of its Malay and minority Chinese and Indian ethnic groups regarding their rights and privileges as citizens, prior to independence from colonial ruler Britain in 1957.
The country adopted an affirmative action policy that benefits the Malays, who form 60 per cent of a population of about 32 million, after deadly race riots in the late 1960s.
Ethnic Chinese are estimated at 23 per cent and ethnic Indians comprise about 7 per cent, government data shows.
MALAYSIA BACKPEDALS IN FACE OF PROTESTS
Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad on Nov 18 said that it is almost impossible for the government to ratify ICERD because it would require a two-thirds majority in Parliament to amend the Federal Constitution.
Earlier in September, however, Dr Mahathir told the United Nations General Assembly that Malaysia would ratify all the human rights conventions left for it to adopt, a total of six, including the racial discrimination measure.
The Pakatan Harapan government does not have a two-thirds majority in Parliament. Furthermore, several Pakatan Harapan MPs stated that they were not in favour of the ratification.
About 30 per cent of Malay voters backed the ruling party in the May 9 general election, independent polling firm Merdeka Center found in a study of voting patterns published in June.
The long-ruling Barisan Nasional coalition, led by the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), received about 40 per cent of Malay votes while PAS was backed by up to 33 per cent, it said.
PUSHBACK AND CRITICISMS
The proposed ratification of ICERD had drawn criticism and protests from government and opposition representatives as well as non-governmental organisations (NGOs).
Many feared that its implementation may undermine some of the privileges enshrined in the Federal Constitution and dilute privileges for majority ethnic Malays.
Some of those opposing the ratification have staged demonstrations to protest against the government's proposal.
On Thursday, a coalition of NGOs claimed that the move for ratifying ICERD was the Democratic Action Party’s (DAP) hidden agenda to abolish the special privileges of the Malay-Muslim community in the country.
DAP secretary-general and Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng responded to the allegations by insisting that the party had never raised the issue.
He said the allegations were aimed at brewing hatred.
"I think everyone knows that the issue (surrounding ICERD) was not raised by DAP, who are the ones who raised it? ... It wasn't us.
"They are trying to flare up racial sentiments, we have never raised this issue, and certain quarters are trying to link DAP (to this issue) for their own political reasons," he said.
Lim also urged the coalition to apologise and withdraw the statements and allegations against him or face legal action.
RATIFICATION WOULD CAUSE COMMUNITY TO "RUN AMOK"
UMNO president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi on Nov 17 said that the Malay-Muslim community would “run amok” to protest the Pakatan Harapan government’s pledge to ratify ICERD.
According to a Malay Mail report, Ahmad Zahid added that UMNO and Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS) had planned a demonstration on Dec 8 in Kuala Lumpur to protest against ratifying the international treaty.
On Friday, Johor Crown Prince Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim said that he believes all Malaysians have a duty to uphold the constitution.
Responding to a question by a Twitter user who asked for his take on the government’s stance on ICERD, the Crown Prince said: “I personally believe that it is the responsibility of every Malaysian to uphold the constitution, be it the State Constitution or the Federal Constitution.
“To be liberal in terms of progress and innovation is good. But we should not forget our tradition, heritage and History.”